The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth. There, the recent destabilization of the Larsen A and B ice shelves has been directly attributed to this warming, in concert with anomalous changes in ocean circulation. Having rapidly accelerated and retreated following the demise of Larsen A and B, the inland glaciers once feeding these ice shelves now form a significant proportion of Antarctica’s total contribution to global sea-level rise, and have become an exemplar for the fate of the wider Antarctic Ice Sheet under a changing climate. Together with other indicators of glaciological instability observable from satellites, abrupt pre-collapse changes in ice shelf terminus position are believed to have presaged the imminent disintegration of Larsen A and B, which necessitates the need for routine, close observation of this sector in order to accurately forecast the future stability of the Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet. To date, however, detailed records of ice terminus position along this region of Antarctica only span the observational period c.1950 to 2008, despite several significant changes to the coastline over the last decade, including the calving of giant iceberg A-68a from Larsen C Ice Shelf in 2017.
Here, we present high-resolution, annual records of ice terminus change along the entire western Weddell Sea Sector, extending southwards from the former Larsen A Ice Shelf on the eastern Antarctic Peninsula to the periphery of Filchner Ice Shelf. Terminus positions were recovered primarily from Sentinel-1a/b, TerraSAR-X and ALOS-PALSAR SAR imagery acquired over the period 2009-2019, and were supplemented with Sentinel-2a/b, Landsat 7 ETM+ and Landsat 8 OLI optical imagery across regions of complex terrain.
Confounding Antarctic Ice Sheet-wide trends of increased glacial recession and mass loss over the long-term satellite era, we detect glaciological advance along 83% of the ice shelves fringing the eastern Antarctic Peninsula between 2009 and 2019. With the exception of SCAR Inlet, where the advance of its terminus position is attributable to long-lasting ice dynamical processes following the disintegration of Larsen B, this phenomenon lies in close agreement with recent observations of unchanged or arrested rates of ice flow and thinning along the coastline. Global climate reanalysis and satellite passive-microwave records reveal that this spatially homogenous advance can be attributed to an enhanced buttressing effect imparted on the eastern Antarctic Peninsula’s ice shelves, governed primarily by regional-scale increases in the delivery and concentration of sea ice proximal to the coastline.